New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 306

Letters
The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Tasty nibble
In your recent issue on Cocoa (NI 304) it was fascinating to follow the journey of the pod from its Ghanaian village to supermarket shelves in Britain. However, although you rightly focused on ‘industrial’ Big Chocolate, I would have appreciated some information about higher quality European chocolate. Not all of us chocoholics eat the industrial-grade stuff, preferring to nibble occasionally on the real thing, which though pricier, is far tastier and more satisfying.

As a consumer of such chocolate I would like to know more of its origins, especially as finding organic chocolate is not that easy in mainland Europe.

Also I missed the end-box detailing further reading and action groups – these contacts are always valuable.

Louise Schooneman
Nieuw Vennep, The Netherlands

Available cocoa
I read with interest the latest issue on the cocoa trade (NI 304). I would appreciate obtaining a chocolate bar from Ghana, either the Green and Black Maya Gold or the Golden Tree TQ bar.

Are either of these available to a resident of Canada?

Richard Beames
Vancouver, Canada

Editor: Unfortunately neither of these chocolate products is available in Canada.
The only fair-traded high cocoa bar I know of is
Mascao, which is made from cocoa from Bolivia and Ecuador. It is sold by Bridgehead in Canada and by Oxfam and Traidcraft in Britain.

Bridgehead Inc/Oxfam America Trading (IFAT) website: http://www.web.net/oxfamgft

Community Aid Abroad Trading Pty Ltd (IFAT) website: http://www.caa.org.au/trading/index.html

Traidcraft Exchange/Traidcraft plc (IFAT, EFTA) website: http://www.globalnet.co.uk/~traidcraft/

Oxfam shops in Europe website: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shops/index.html

Gender equality
Well done to the NI for publishing a view of family planning from a male perspective (NI 303 ‘Not knitting an orgasm’). Unfortunately the NI has a past of largely ignoring the male aspect of any of its stories, resulting in skewed coverage that questions the reality of its supposed ethos of equality.

Disappointing since the magazine normally excels in enlightened understanding of a polarized world.

Fortunately you have had the courage to publish other readers’ letters (from both women and men) about this imbalance in recent months. I hope these ‘radical’ steps mean the NI is shedding its reliance on stereotypes and evolving towards genuine gender equality.

Gavin McNaughton
Leeds, England

Soft approach
David Ransom’s article ‘Jeans the big stitch up’ (NI 302) started out beautifully. But by the end I was disappointed. I can hardly agree with the statement ‘no-one ever changed anything of importance by buying something else’. Surely, whether you are going to change things or not, it is at least important for your own sense of well-being not to support industries you don’t agree with. I buy most of my clothes from co-op shops and can feel happy about this. I know this isn’t for everyone but if we are going to bring about change then those of us not prepared to take the cheaper alternative of buying pre-loved clothes have to be prepared to pay the true cost for environmentally and socially sound products. The soft approach at the end of the article really demonstrated to me the target market of NI – upper middle-class people who aren’t prepared to sacrifice too much.
Cotton is a hot topic in Australia at the moment with plans to dam the Fitzroy River in one of the few remaining wilderness areas, the Kimberly region of Western Australia, for irrigation. For more information contact Environs Kimberly PO Box 309, Broome, WA 6725.

Christine Harris
Perth, Australia


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Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

Both sides now
I was disappointed to find that the author of ‘A Moral Question’ in the issue on reproductive rights (NI 303) made no secret of her stance on the issue of abortion.

I am not against abortion – though many years ago I did feel that the ‘termination’ of a foetus was somehow distressing and ugly and wrong, but subsequently I found myself in the position of having to have one myself. I still experienced my former feelings but came to realize that sometimes a sense of moral dis-ease has to be reconciled with practical and emotional issues. Abortion can be a difficult thing to do, however much we believe in the importance of its availability to all.

The debate is often focused on ‘sides’ - either we are on the mother’s ‘side’ or on that of the foetus. Personally, I’m on both, because in the case of an unwanted pregnancy a life will always be sacrificed; either the child’s physically or the mother’s economically, practically and socially.

My plea is for the abortion debate to actually be a debate. Less angry and less stereotyping of ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ positions.

Yes, there are extremists at both ends of the spectrum, but there are an awful lot of more moderate people in between; we just never see them in the media.

Lorna Donohoe
London, England

Portugal’s referendum
With reference to your issue on reproduction (NI 303), Portugal and the Republic of Ireland are the most conservative countries in the European Union where legislation concerning abortion is concerned.

In Portugal abortion is illegal except for cases of rape, malformation of the foetus or when the mother’s life is at risk. Women who undergo abortions for other reasons can be sentenced to jail for up to three years. As a consequence, many resort to clandestine abortion.

A recent referendum on this subject asked people if they agreeed with legalizing abortion when done at a woman’s request in public health institutions for up to ten week’s pregnancy. 49.09 per cent voted yes and 50.91 per cent voted no but approximately 70 per cent did not vote, so the results are not compelling.

Previously, Parliament had already approved a bill institutionalizing the current situation. This had been submitted to the referendum as an attempt to prevent more progressive legislation. I sincerely hope that women will not keep on dying as victims of botched abortions.

Sónia Duarte
São João da Madeira, Portugal

Troubling questions
Your Endpiece on Argentina’s ‘Dirty Peace’ (NI 303) mentioned a master-torturer named Julian ‘ The Turk’ Simon, evidently well-known but not yet brought to justice by the country’s corrupt Government.

Some troubling questions arise: who provided that piece of slime? His parenting and schooling? Who will pursue the inquiry? Who is accountable? And who will prevent the production of more such fiends? By answering ‘no-one’ we condemn not just Argentina.

R V MacLeod
Sirdar, Canada

No resources
Your remarks in the Update (NI 302) on migrant workers in Malaysia imply that Malaysians are treating these people unfairly. Please be reminded that the loss of employment is now a pervasive problem in South-East Asia and is suffered by workers in all sectors – not exclusively the migrant ones.

Secondly, your quote of the wages of workers is misleading and does not warrant comparison with American or European wages since the standard of living is very much lower. The labourers are paid decently by local standards and certainly at least five times higher than what they would earn in their home countries.

Lastly you fail to include the fact that boatloads of up to 1,000 illegal immigrants are arriving daily. Illegal squatter areas mushroom across the country. We have no resources to cope with these people and the additional problems they represent.

Yap Mun Ching
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thanks!
Thanks to the many readers who sent in ideas for topics – we will feed them into the autumn meeting where we decide on next year’s issues.


The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

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Life and death in the hidden valley
Winters are long and summers short in the mountains of western Mongolia.
Louisa Waugh visits a sick family in a remote community.

Gerel Huu and her great grandson became sick at the same time. Five-year-old Yaluul sweated feverishly, but shook with cold and was wracked with a deep cough. Gerel Huu felt completely drained – for the first time in her long life she refused to rise from her bed. Her head throbbed so badly she could hardly bear to open her eyes.

The whole family was worried – from their remote settlement it was only 30 kilometres to the nearest village, but they lived halfway up a mountain and the river had already frozen. Yaluul’s father, Erdenebat, mounted his horse, forded the narrow river and rode down to the valley floor. He cantered and then galloped into Tsengel village, stirred on by anxiety for his grandmother and his son. He easily found one of the three local doctors, who promised she’d be there in a few hours.

I was drinking tea and gossiping with two of my students when Dr Janer-Guul turned up. She had to leave right away. Was I coming to one of the hidden valleys amidst the mountains that surrounded my new home?

I grabbed my camera, ushered my students out of the room, and jumped into the battered but reliable Russian medical jeep.

Ours is the last western village in Mongolia – from here on there are only mountains, nomads and wild, beautiful, dangerous countryside. We crunched west along the high river bank, stirring camels and herds of sheep and goats, gradually climbing into the barren mountains. We turned a very sharp left and dragged the jeep up a narrow rocky valley. I thought we’d never make it – this fierce landscape is accessible only by horse and camel for months at a time. But the jeep plunged up and on – past crudely built wooden cabins where Mongolians, Tuuvans and Kazakhs herded for generations. We finally reached a small plateau where Gerel Huu, Yaluul and their extended family sheltered against overhanging rocks in their two wooden cabins.

Illustration by SARAH JOHN

‘They’ve both got to go to hospital. We’ll take them straight back with us,’ stated Janer-Guul, calmly binding her stethoscope. But even now, Mongolian hospitality dictated that we sit around the cabin stove and drink bowls of salty milk tea and dried cheese curds – we couldn’t just leave.

Locals trickled into the already darkening cabin – word of visitors gets around here fast. Gerel Huu listlessly packed a few clothes, wrapped them in a shawl, whilst Erdenebat sat cross-legged telling me the family history.

‘We’ve lived in this valley for 18 years. I’ve got 110 livestock now – but the winter is brutal and long. Sometimes even the horses can’t get through. It’s very hard for Emee (grandmother) and the children.’ Erdenebat’s wife sat passively rocking her whimpering son. She looked a decade older than her 31 years. The men seem to thrive here in the mountains – they look robust and at ease. But many of the women appear completely jaded – exhausted from childbirth, raising and feeding their large families.

Gerel Huu is 78 and has outlived all but two of her seven children. She has 16 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. She has lived all her life either in a one-room candle-lit cabin with narrow cots, or, in the brief summer, in the traditional Mongolian felt ger tent, carried by the family’s camels to the fertile plains lower down in the valley. Her deeply lined skin testified to a life spent in these windswept mountains.

She now clutched my hand in her dry palm as we left her cabin and she hobbled toward the medical jeep. ‘I need to go to hospital,’ she confessed to me. ‘But in summer you come and visit – it’s beautiful and warm then.’

We crammed into the jeep – Janer-Guul, Yaluul and his silent mother, Gerel Huu, me and a young herder who also had to go to Tsengel.

As we lurched down the mountain, Gerel Huu held her head in her hands. ‘Terrible, terrible!’ she told me, her face puckered with pain. Yaluul was finally sleeping, rasping as he breathed.

We reached Tsengel’s run-down hospital two hours later. I waved goodbye to the small party and wandered back to my own Mongolian ger, elated by the journey but subdued by this first encounter with life and death in the mountains.

Gerel Huu is fine – she’s back in her valley and rises at dawn once more. Yaluul died in hospital five days later.

Louisa Waugh is a freelance writer who lives and works in Mongolia.

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